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OM in the News: Britain Promotes Apprenticeships to Help its Industrial Base

January 20, 2014
British apprentice learning high-integrity welding

British apprentice learning high-integrity welding

Despite relatively high unemployment in Britain, especially among young people, there is a marked shortage of skilled manufacturing workers, writes The New York Times (Jan. 20, 2014). The problem is so acute that the government and industrial companies are behind an unprecedented push to get teenagers into apprenticeships to close that gap. The British government is trying to catch up with Germany and Switzerland, which have retained their competitive edge with the help of well-honed apprenticeship programs.

 A third of employers across Europe say that the lack of skills is causing major business problems in terms of higher costs, insufficient quality and lost time.  27% of the 2,600 companies surveyed by McKinsey note they have left an entry-level vacancy unfilled over the past year because there were no eligible applicants. Statistics like that, and the fact that about a quarter of people under 25 are jobless in Europe, prompted Britain to act, committing £1.57 billion to apprenticeship training last year. About 2.7 million new jobs in British manufacturing are expected by 2020, of which 1.9 million will require engineering skills. Companies will need to double both the current number of qualified recruits and of apprenticeships to fill those positions.
Britain is among the worst in the developed world at equipping its young people with numeracy and literacy skills. The career aspirations of high school students showed them to be heavily skewed toward jobs in acting, media and professional sports. Part of the challenge for Britain is turning around the bad reputation that apprenticeships can have, often being associated with dull, menial tasks that evoke images of Oliver Twist, the Dickens character who faced life as an apprentice to a chimney sweep. Britain has a record of apprenticeships back to medieval times, when boys were hired as young as 7 and often worked in brutal conditions.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What are your student’s views towards apprenticeships?

2. Why is such training as important in the US as in Europe?

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